Episcopal Church wins control of Virginia churches

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FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) -- The Episcopal Church should be restored as the owner of several historic churches in Virginia, a judge has ruled, years after the denomination was essentially evicted by local congregations dismayed with Episcopal leadership's liberal theology.

In a 113-page ruling issued Tuesday night, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows reversed a ruling he made in 2008 giving custody to the conservative congregations. The Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling and ordered a new trial.

At issue is ownership of seven Virginia churches, including two prominent, historic congregations that trace their roots to George Washington: Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church, for which the city of Falls Church is named.

The disputes within the Episcopal Church have raged openly since 2003, when the denomination consecrated an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The issues have since broadened to a range of theological issues, including fundamental interpretations of Scripture.

The Episcopal Church, with about 2 million members, is a U.S. affiliate of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide. Many of the international branches in the Anglican church, especially those in Africa, take more conservative views and have supported congregations in the U.S. that have broken away from The Episcopal Church.

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